Saturday, May 14, 2005

(part 2): more on the Lebanese Army from JANES - March 1995

...(continued from previous post)...

The LAF has 11 infantry brigades, each brigade comprising three
infantry battalions, one armoured battalion, one artillery battalion,
one logistics battalion and a company of engineers. There are also a
number of special forces regiments, comprising five intervention
regiments, one commando regiment and one airborne regiment.

Under the pressure of the civil war, army units tended to break down
on confessional lines. For instance, the 6th Brigade in Muslim west
Beirut became a mainly Muslim formation, while the 8th Brigade based
in Christian east Beirut became a mainly Christian formation. Said
one officer: `Lahoud took steps to change all that. For instance, he
appointed a Maronite Christian to command the 6th Brigade, even
though the commander used to be always a Shia Muslim, and instead of
the usual Christian officer in charge of the 8th Brigade, Lahoud
appointed a Sunni Muslim. Also, he ordered each battalion to serve in
a different part of Lebanon every six months as part of the process
of building up what can be called a truly national army, as opposed
to a collection of individual battalions, with each battalion
excessively attached to its particular confessional stronghold.'

Senior LAF officers boast that, with the exception of the
self-declared Israeli security zone in southern Lebanon, there is no
part of the country where the LAF cannot go. This may well be true,
but one only has to visit the eastern part of the Bekaa Valley to see
that the Syrian army holds sway there. In fact, the LAF is not
present in Baalbek, a town in the eastern Bekaa noted for its
concentration of Hezbollah activists but which, nonetheless, is
dominated by the Syrians. Informed sources in Lebanon say that up to
40 per cent of the strength of the LAF is now concentrated in
southern Lebanon, with a strong LAF presence in Tyre, Sidon,
Nabatiyeh and the western Bekaa. The LAF maintains a strong presence
around the two big Palestinian refugee camps in the region - the Ein
Hilweh camp in Sidon where there was fighting in late 1994 between
pro and anti-Arafat factions, and the Rashidiyeh camp on the
outskirts of Tyre.

In 1993, the LAF moved several hundred soldiers into parts of the
UNIFIL zone in southern Lebanon, in a move agreed between the
Lebanese government and UNIFIL. However, the deployment, made without
consulting Syria, is believed to have caused at least a temporary
strain in Lebanese-Syrian relations. The deployment of the Lebanese
army was seen as a step towards the implementation of UNIFIL's
mandate (defined in Security Council Resolution 425) to assist the
Lebanese government extend its authority to the frontier with Israel.
The LAF has two liaison officers with each of the UNIFIL battalions
but, ironically, it has no liaison officers at UNIFIL HQ in Naquora,
as this is located inside Israel's `security zone'.

Just as one does not see Lebanese troops in the eastern Bekaa,
neither does one see Syrian troops in the region close to the UNIFIL
zone. The official explanation from Beirut sources is that the
Lebanese and the Syrians, in order to make best use of resources,
have agreed amongst themselves who will take responsibility for a
particular area. However, one experienced Beirut-based observer
expressed the view that the Syrians do not want to have their troops
near the UNIFIL zone in case the Israelis launch one of their
punitive raids and the Syrians are drawn into a conflict with the
Israelis at a time or in a place not of their choosing.

Relations with Hezbollah

As regards the Hezbollah fighters who operate in southern Lebanon,
the official stance adopted by the Lebanese government and which, by
definition, reflects the stance of the LAF, is that these are
resistance fighters who are entitled to engage in operations against
the Israeli occupation forces. In a public statement last November,
General Lahoud said that independence would never be complete as long
as the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and western Bekaa
continued, adding that the state `would continue to support the
resistance' until the occupation ended.

The fact that the Syrians, who wield so much influence with the
Lebanese government, have helped to arm Hezbollah fighters, may have
influenced the regime in Beirut to adopt a more accommodating
approach to the movement than it would otherwise have wished to
adopt. At the same time, it is clear that there is no love lost
between Hezbollah on the one hand, and the Lebanese government and
the LAF on the other. In September 1993, Lebanese troops shot and
killed seven Hezbollah supporters during a Beirut demonstration
against the PLO/Israeli accord. Then, in July 1994, President Hrawi
offered to send in troops to end the resistance struggle in southern
Lebanon if the Israelis were to withdraw from the `security zone'. On
another occasion, in July 1993, Beirut newspapers reported that
Lebanon's foreign minister was accusing Iran of ignoring the
legitimate authority of the government in Beirut - an obvious
reference to Iran's support for Hezbollah. However, a crackdown by
the LAF on Hezbollah resistance could create internal pressures for
the army as there is a long tradition of Shia Muslims joining the LAF
as enlisted men; some of these would have relatives, friends and
neighbours who are involved in Hezbollah.

Some observers detect a conciliatory approach by at least some
Hezbollah leaders towards the LAF, and believe that this may derive
partly from grassroots Shia links with the army. They say that
following the shooting of seven supporters in September 1993,
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah was relatively restrained in
his protests and, in their opinion, `went easy' on the LAF.

The Future

Sources in the Lebanese government say that in building up and
reorganizing the LAF, the government has learnt many lessons from the
long years of civil war. One source reflected that the Lebanese army
of pre-civil war days was a highly professional force, probably the
best conventional army in the Arab world, with a strength of about
20000 and with officers who had been extremely well-trained in
France, Italy and the USA. However, the army, although well prepared
for a conventional role, was not prepared for the internal security
problems posed by large, well-armed Palestinian forces, who were in
turn backed by large numbers of armed Lebanese elements. Now, the new
army is designed not primarily to fight another conventional army but
to deal with security threat from within, while at the same time
being able to face any external threats as well. `This is a new
approach for our army', said the source, who added that the LAF had
been built up so that it could replace Israel in southern Lebanon
when Jerusalem pulls out - and so that it could also replace Syrian
forces when they are withdrawn from Lebanon. At the moment, however,
there is no sign of President Assad evacuating his army from the
territory of his smaller neighbour.

Sean Boyne is a journalist based in Dublin who has travelled widely
in the Middle East.


Charles Malik said...

Thanks for the post.
Lahoud was massively popular when he became President in 1998, and remained popular until, perhaps, the end of 2000 (ie, after the Israelis left).
I think the main reason for his decline in popularity was his opposition to Hariri (which the Christian community loved) combined with his unadulterated love of Hezbollah.
Hrawi scorned Hezbollah. If he got his way, the group would probably have been destroyed. Syria stopped him.
I this way, Lahoud was always Syria's boy.

Anonymous said...

What is Saad Hariri's stance on Hezbullah? What is Saad Haariri's stance on giving Palestinians in Lebanon more rights?